CHARLESTON - A Charleston health official says a strain of flu that put many people in the hospital five years ago is on the rise again.
Dr. Rahul Gupta of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department said this week that the H1N1 virus is the predominant flu strain circulating now. Commonly known as the "swine flu," the strain particularly affects young and middle-aged people.
Gupta said viruses have a tendency to get established and come back in the next few years. That's one of the reasons the H1N1 strain is included in the flu vaccine this year.
According to published reports, the doctor said that flu season typically peaks in January and February, and the illness is expected to rise in the next few weeks. He said now is the time to get a flu shot because it takes about two weeks to take effect.
Shannon McBee, influenza coordinator with the state Bureau for Public Health, said that about 2.3 percent of West Virginia residents have sought care for flu.
Michael Jhung, medical officer with the influenza division for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that even though flu is on the rise experts do not expect a repeat of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. He said the CDC nevertheless wants people to be prepared for the flu season and is encouraging vaccinations for everyone older than 6 months.
With newer technology, vaccinations can be given in a variety of ways.
First, there is the standard flu shot with a needle. There is also an epidermal shot inserted just below the skin, and a nasal spray method for people who don't like needles.
Jhung recommended patients see their primary care doctor first to determine which method of the flu shot would be best, as well as if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms. He said that "as long as they get some vaccine, we would be happy."
Health officials also advise people to cover their cough, avoid large crowds, wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, and stay at home if they have a fever, body aches, or other flu-like symptoms.